Precision Beef records information in quest to become optimum cattle management system

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Key information drivers of beef productivity and profitability are being built into a program managed by University of Queensland researchers to improve beef value and volume

Professor Ben Hayes of QAAFI is co-ordinating the Precision Beef program to become the main information source for cattle by showing the risks, costs and returns associated with different strategies for managing herds

The best ideas to value-add to management of cattle herds across all states is being brought together by the integrated research held in ‘Precision Beef’, a strategy that pinpoints ways to maximise beef production and value. 

The program is being coordinated by Professor Ben Hayes, based at the Queensland Alliance of Agricultural and Food Innovation (QAAFI).

Ben says ‘Precision Beef’ works by capturing and combining information about some of the key drivers of beef prices: genetics, rearing, environment, pasture and a unique approach to meat quality.

“The key components of profitability in the beef industry are each technically complex research subjects,” Professor Hayes says.

“What Precision Beef does is connect the dots, bringing together researchers that deal with different industry issues on one hand, and combining our understanding within one integrated computer system on the other.

Expertise in dealing with the key drivers of beef profitability exists within QAAFI and these researchers are well versed in working cooperatively and collaboratively.

They understand that each component works in tandem in the real world and their ultimate goal is to make gains that help farmers.

Professor Hayes says it all starts with the end consumer and an understanding of what makes for a pleasurable sensory experience when it comes to eating a beef product.

Taste analysis is becoming exceptionally sophisticated and has the ability to create profiles of the combination of fat, muscle fibre and assorted compounds that elevates beef to different price points.

This is an area of research headed by Associate Professor Heather Smyth and provides Precision Beef with quantitative measures of beef quality.

Computer algorithms will then make it possible to backtrack the quality data against how cows were reared, their genetics, the nutritional value of pastures, the associated methane production and even stress levels experienced by herds.

Each of these additional components are the subject of intensive research programs at QAAFI that use advanced technology including artificial intelligence and genomics. 

An important focus of this work is the ability to select the genetics and pastures that can enhance reproductive efficiency and increase the number of calves a cow can produce over a lifetime.

This has important efficiency and sustainability impacts.

Professor Hayes has developed a breeding program to select for improved fertility genetics, which is already improving the reproductive efficiency of 54 participating cattle herds.

Concurrently, colleague Associate Professor Luis Prada e Silva can measure the impact on fertility of the nutritional value of different pastures, based on nitrogen levels in tail hair samples.

Satellite images then make it possible to survey the nutritional quality (and, therefore, its impact on fertility) of pastures across Australian landscapes.

The next step is to link back to the taste and sensory perception data to generate additional predictions on the quality and market value of beef products coming through the supply chain.

“The power of Precision Beef would come from combining datasets in such a way that producers gain clarity about the risks, costs and returns associated with different strategies for managing and marketing their cattle herds,” Professor Hayes says. 

“Producers could then opt to improve pastures and genetics with specific goals around the quantity, quality and value of beef they are producing.

Take a look at the video link here.